(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 88-89, Note the Copyright!)
The first idea for a Waldorf School in Finland arose in the mind of a young Finn who was attending the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, Germany, in the 1930s. This is what we are told by Reijo Wilenius, one of the founding fathers of the Finnish Waldorf School movement who taught philosophy for many years at the University of Jyväskylä. In 1938 a summer course on Waldorf Education then took place in Sammatti, Finland, which was attended by Annie Heuser (1896-1962), a Waldorf teacher from Berlin who had fled the Nazi regime, and Elena Zuccoli (1901-1996) an Italian-Swedish eurythmist. They wanted to remain in Finland, but the war frustrated these plans.
The Finnish teacher Maija Juvas was the driving force behind further seminars on Waldorf Education in 1949 and 1950; she invited Rudolf Grosse (1905-1994), a Waldorf teacher from Basle, Switzerland, to come and lecture. After concluding her study of Waldorf Education at Dornach, Switzerland, she joined Kaisu Virkkunen, Reijo Wilenius and Aijami Wilenius in preparing a large, international exhibition on the education which was put on in Helsinki in 1955. This enabled the public to see with their own eyes what the pupils at a Waldorf School were capable of producing. Accompanying lectures in the evenings were once again given by Rudolf Grosse. Fifty people attended on the first evening, 100 on the next, 200 on the third and 400 on the fourth, and by the autumn there were many parents who wanted to start a Waldorf School. But then tragedy intervened when Maija Juvas fell ill and died. Thereupon Kaisu Virkkunen hurried off to Stuttgart to study the education. The first Waldorf School in Helsinki finally opened its doors in September 1955. Since Finland is bilingual, there was one Finnish-speaking and one Swedish-speaking class. In 1958 the school acquired its own building and 10 years later another was built for the upper school.
The spark ignites
At the beginning of the 1970s two more Waldorf Schools opened, in Lahti (western central Finland) and in Tampere (eastern central Finland). These functioned as private schools until they gained state recognition seven years later. The Waldorf School in Helsinki had been recognized as an experimental school from the start. In 1977 a special law for Waldorf Schools came into force guaranteeing the position of the existing three schools as 12-year schools on an equal footing with state schools as regards funding.
School founding initiatives started up in many Finnish towns during the 1980s. Teacher training seminars were set up in Helsinki and at Lahti and Tampere. A Federation of Independent Waldorf Schools was founded to help the schools and carry on publicity work. In 1981 the Ministry for Education set up a working group to evaluate Waldorf Education with regard to its being able to exercise a positive influence on the state’s education system in the future. The results were negative. The Social Democratic government had decreed that every child in Finland should receive the same educational opportunities and wanted to make the education system as effective and uniform as possible. There was no more room for Waldorf Schools in such a system.
There were, however, many parents who fought tirelessly for the right to choose the quality of their children’s education and the school they should attend. Once it became obvious that no more state-recognized Waldorf Schools could be founded they joined forces to open private Waldorf Schools. Such schools opened their doors during the 1980s in Helsinki and at Turku, Jyväskylä and Oulu. These were soon followed by others at Vantaa, Pori, Tammisaari, Lappeenrenta, Rovaniemi, Vaasa and Seinäjoki.
The perseverance of the parents in pursuit of their aim to choose their children’s schooling led in 1991 to a new rule under which private schools working in accordance with international education systems could receive public funding up to Class 9 and would be recognized as complementary schools. Since then 17 Waldorf Schools and 2 curative schools have been receiving state support.
A hard battle for freedom in education
After all the battles for freedom in the Finnish education system an educational reform came about in 1998. The new education legislation gives private schools 90% of the budget accorded to state schools. Private schools that existed prior to 1998 receive state support of 100% of their running costs but no investment funding. Thus Waldorf Schools have now achieved public and state recognition. Nevertheless, voices against freedom in education are still frequently heard in Finland.
The next step will be an overhaul of Finland’s framework curriculum. Numerous consultative groups have been set up by the government for this purpose and representatives of Waldorf Education have been asked to participate in the group looking into alternative education.
On the whole Waldorf Schools have a good reputation in Finland. Most people believe that they are for artistically gifted pupils or even that they are art schools. Some think they are schools for exceptionally bright children or that they expect a great deal of their pupils. Indeed parents, pupils and teachers make every effort on behalf of their school. But there are also negative voices such as those who maintain that pupils only play there and do not learn anything, or that the methods are outmoded. And finally there is also the method of simply not mentioning them at all.
A key to the future
Is there a future for Waldorf Schools in Finland? Schools need pupils, pupils need teachers, and teachers need parents who are willing to entrust their children to them. A school is only as good as its teachers. Without full training for the teachers there can be no Waldorf Schools. So a thorough training for teachers is the most important key to the future of Waldorf Education in Finland.
16 years class teaching and for many years board member in the Federation of Independent Waldorf Schools in Finland.